Webinars might vary in terms of length and structure, and the form it takes will depend on the topic and the presenter’s style. When planning your webinar, your options range from tightly scripted and memorized to free form and improvisational. However, no matter where yours falls on that spectrum, two things are definite: you do have to practice—and you do have to leave some room for audience interaction.
Here’s a look at a few different webinar formats—and their pros and cons.
Scripting your webinar gives you the advantage of knowing that your presentation will be organized and paced the way you want—it’s predictable. However, it comes with some pitfalls. It’s not uncommon for more inexperienced web presenters to write their entire presentation out on notecards or a Word doc—and try to read that during the presentation. This is a bad idea, as your audience will be able to tell when you’re reading off cue cards. If you’re going to script fully, you have to practice a lot to make sure your delivery is natural.
If you’re writing a script for the bulk of your presentation, practice it over and over until you have it memorized—or mostly memorized, with only an occasional need to glance at your notes. Practice it in front of a friend or family member to make sure they can follow your structure, and get an idea where your presentation is dragging
In addition, bear in mind that you can’t script out all of your webinar. This format is most effective if you leave room for some form of audience interaction—whether that includes polls or other interactive digital tools, or question-and-answer sessions either at the end or at key points. You won’t be able to prepare perfectly for this part, but you can rehearse your responses to the most likely questions.
This is the other extreme, where the presenter doesn’t have a set outline and gives a lecture that could be described as an improv session. Under most circumstances, pure improv doesn’t translate well to the webinar format if you’re planning to show graphs, charts, or visuals along the way—you’ll need a plan in order to know when to drop these things in.
If you’re an experienced and relaxed speaker, an improvisational structure could give you a freedom that you’re comfortable with—and that puts your audience at ease as well. However, it’s still crucial to prepare. It’s easy to lose your train of thought when speaking in front of an audience, even if you think you know where you’re going. In addition, only repeated practice—sometimes before a test audience of colleagues, family, or friends—will tell you whether your presentation is working, where it drags, and where it’s unclear. Even if you’re going for a more improvisational style, you still need to refine the presentation.
You could also choose to script some of your presentation—but not others. This is often a very effective middle ground, allowing for freedom within a more solid structure. If you’re considering this approach, the places where it’s most important to script include your opening and closing remarks; segues between major topics; the introduction of new speakers; and explanations of aspects of your talk that are complex and require special breaking down.
Most successful webinars follow a semi-scripted format that allows for flexibility within a framework. Whichever form you choose, however, bear in mind that rehearsal is essential—and preparation is key, even for more improvisational presentations. Take the time to plot out what you’re going to say, and practice in front of an audience before the big day. If you do, your presentation is much more likely to be effective.